Five things I’ve learned about my writing process

1. I have writing tics. Many of them. But it’s okay to let them go in the first draft. They’ll be slaughtered in the final one (hopefully).

I never thought about them as writing tics, but that’s exactly what they are.

  • Exclamation marks. I love these, apparently, as I tend to over use them. My emails and tweets and, well, most correspondence tend to contain an overabundance of exclamation marks! Thankfully, they haven’t made their way into my MS, but in almost all else, I sound overly chipper!
  • Coordinating conjunctions. You know, FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). For me, though, it’s “and,” “so,” and “but.” And sometimes “yet.” I’m always using them. And I start sentences with them. A lot. These do make their way into my MS and I’ve learned to look for them when revising.
  • Semi-colons. I didn’t realize I had a “thing” for semi-colons until recently, when one of my classmates from the Writing and Selling the YA Novel pointed it out to me. She said it was residual from the academic in me, and it’s probably so. They just don’t belong in dialogue–I have no etched this on my brain so that as I work on my novel, I won’t do this.
  • And fragments (purely for emphasis, of course). I spend most of my days teaching how fragments are a BIG no-no. And they are. Most people who write fragments without knowing it are writing them incorrectly. Snippets of a wannabe sentence that don’t make sense. But there is such a thing as a fragment for emphasis. Usually in creative writing or journalistic writing. Not in academic writing.

I’ve also learned that sometimes, I use “filler” words like “just,” and “well,” and such. I’ve learned not to use them as much, but when I’m writing my first draft, I don’t worry about it (or any of my other tics). It’s my first draft. It’s meant to be crappy.

2. Outlines are my friend, but I’m not married to them.

Seriously. I love my outlines. They help me stay focused and give me a sense of where I’m going. But in fiction, my outlines are rough and they’re guides. I have written and rewritten these outlines as my story progresses because part of the beauty and magic of writing is the discovery that ensues. An outline shouldn’t take that away. It should just help

Perhaps it’s that I came to writing from the academic side. I couldn’t imagine having written my MA thesis without one. I would’ve gone nuts! When I started writing my memoir, I sketched out an outline of what I wanted to cover, seeing connections in that piece. And when I started writing this novel, I didn’t, initially. I went with what I had: a vision and I wrote that scene. And the next. But then I got to a point where I said, what next? How can I see where this is going? In one of Jessica Barksdale Inclan’s classed, she had us do a list of things that we thought had to happen in our story, in the order in which they happened. This was a sketch outline. That list grew and I had a vision of the entire piece. So my outline isn’t the traditional academic outline, but it’s still a sort of blue-print of my novel. And it changes as my story progresses because that’s what it’s supposed to do. If it didn’t change, then I’d be forcing my novel into something it’s not. And I don’t want to do that. I really view my characters and story as organic–a life of their own. I’m just witnessing it and writing it down.

3. Revision is much, much cooler than I previously gave it credit.

I recently tweeted this about revising:

What I love about revision is witnessing how each round molds the story, adding yet another layer that works toward making it whole.

And it’s so true. It’s like a painting. First, the artist sketches an outline in pencil. Then she begins to layer the background paints. Then the foreground. Then the small shadows and details. The end-product is a beautifully rich painting that took layer upon layer of paint and care and dedication. That’s what revision does: it adds layers. The first draft is the innermost layer, the rough sketch of what the work will look like. It’s rough and jagged and messy. Then you revise for plot and character and theme and unity and language. You take it section by section, layer by layer, until it’s whole.

4. I thrive in writing stretches of 4-5 hours.

I know we’re supposed to fit in writing when we can, even if it’s in short increments. Ten minutes here. Half-an-hour there. But see, it takes me a bit to warm up. I mean, it helps when I’m thinking constantly about my characters and where I left off. Of course it does. But even if I’m mentally there, getting the words to come out in a good manner takes me a bit. Then there’s the frustration of being in the middle of something great and having to stop. Once I get going, I get going, and I like being able to use my energy wisely. My best comes out in 4-5 hours, maybe even 2-3 hours. Anything less, and it’s worse than 1st draft crap. And anything more, I get bone-tired weary, my eyes blur, and my joints start screaming, especially my knees and my hands/wrists.

Of course, if I only have a few minutes, or half an hour, or even an hour, I take it and work with it the best way I can. Usually it’s making a rough sketch of a scene or chapter so that when I do get the nice stretch of time, I’ll have a game plan, helping me get into scene and character and story that much easier.

5. I can write anywhere, but my best writing is done either at Starbucks or in my home office. With music.

I’ve learned that I can, in fact, write almost anywhere. I lose myself in the story once I start writing, and the house can burn down and I wouldn’t even know it. I’ve burned many a toast by writing. But even then, I get interrupted and it’s another block to the flow. Like my preferred 4-5 hours, my preferred writing spaces are at Starbucks or in my home office. At Starbucks, I have my coffee (decaf caramel macchiato with extra foam– I have to do decaf for health reasons, though sometimes I cheat and get that extra umph), my laptop, and the baristas who I’ve known forever (or it seems that way since I’m always there!) At home, I have my orange (yes, orange….bright and alive) office, with cork-board tiles and a dry-erase board above my desk. I have my outlines, my character profiles, my notes, and inspirations there. I also have incense, which I use whenever I can.

In both cases, I write with music. Music and writing for me are linked. I have a playlist for this project and whenever I’m ready to write, I turn it on and it’s like I’m instantly in my story. It’s so much a part of this story. I chose songs that have the feel of what I’m trying to convey, so that means the songs in my playlist are there because of melody or lyrics. Or both. Some artists in my playlist are Adele, Gotye, Natalie Duque, Brandon Heath and Toby Mac.

Random Monday

1. I received Veronica Roth’s book Insurgent wirelessly into my phone on May 1st. I was going to wait, really, I was, but I couldn’t. I started reading at 5ish in the morning and, by the evening, I had finished the book. I had read the first book in her trilogy, Divergent, last year and was hooked on her story. It is similar to The Hunger Games in several ways, but, as much as I hate to admit it because I loved The Hunger GamesDivergent was better I think. So when I received Insurgent, I was hooked. Much of what I liked in the first book was there (the characters, the plot line, the world, the factions, and of course, the love story), but there was more action, the characters were developed further, and secrets were revealed. Now I have to wait until she finishes book 3, which I think is rumored to come out some time at the end of next year. *gasp* I have to wait a whole year! I’ve never gotten hooked on a book so early on. The HP series was almost all out when I started reading them, and The Hunger Games trilogy was also all out when I first read book 1. This will be very interesting indeed.

2. I submitted my writing sample and application for the Novel Writing IV course at UCLA Writer’s Extension Program with Lynn Hightower. I am super excited and psyched about taking that class as I’m hoping it will get me closer to my end goal: completing a polished draft of my novel by the end of the summer. Now I wait (have I mentioned how much I dislike waiting…?) and cross my fingers. I should hear back some time around June 14 whether or not I got in.

3. I also submitted the first chapter of my novel for a manuscript consultation at the SCBWI Florida Summer Workshop 2012 this June. I’m scheduled for the Novel workshops and have requested a manuscript consultation. I’m hoping to take away as much, if not more, as I did this past January at the Miami Conference. I’m nervous and excited about this. I’ve had manuscript consultations before (twice on my memoir and twice with great feedback), but this will be the first YA manuscript consultation.

4. I’m listening to an audio book: Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride, a contemporary YA novel. I know audio books aren’t knew, but it’s the first time I’ve ever listened to one! It was weird at first. I didn’t like listening to the book. But after a while, I got into it. I’m in chapter 5, I think. I’ve downloaded it to my iPhone so I can take it with me to waiting rooms and such.

5. Next Monday, I’m having my gallbladder removed. I’m a little nervous but more anxious to start feeling better. I’m tired of the nausea and pain and the inability to freaking eat. It’s gotten to the point where even the bland stuff I don’t tolerate. So while I’m not keen on losing yet another body part (lost my appendix when I was 9), I am looking forward to feeling better. It should be a quick and easy surgery and I hear the recovery time is minimal (barring any complications, of course). I’m also looking forward to some R&R and being pampered.

“Dual [writing] Citizenship” and other news

I’m in Chicago this week at the AWP 2012 Conference, and I have to say, I’m loving it (granted, it’s only my first day).

This is the first time I attend  such a conference (most of my conference experiences deal strictly with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or children’s writing, in mostly workshop form. This, however, is a different experience. For starters, it’s no small event. There are over 10,000 (if I misremember the number, please excuse me) attendees, dozens of lectures/panels happening simultaneously across two hotels, and an impressive celebrity author lineup.

Additionally, though, this conference is great because it encompasses two of my loves: writing and teaching. The lectures/panels that are available broach a wide variety of subjects that pertain to writing and writing programs. The beauty of this combination is that, in one place, I can get tools or listen to conversations about the kids of writing that I do and the classes that I teach. It’s awesome.

The title of this post is in reference to one of the panels I attended today that was titled: “Dual Citizenship: Writing for Both Children and Adults.” It was fabulous and I think it really nailed a problem I’ve been encountering, a sort of snobbery if you will. We’ve been so conditioned to accept a reality of labels that we constantly feel the need to fit into one of those labels, as if writing could be contained in such a way. We don’t have to have just one writing identity (the poet, the fiction writer, the memoirist, the kid lit writer); it’s perfectly okay in embracing this multiple personality effect!

I know that when I get asked the pivotal question,”What do you write?” I stumble sometimes because, well, I like writing it all (though not necessarily all with the same strength)! I don’t want to be known just as a fiction writer or a memoirist or a YA or PB author. I want to write it all. I want to strive to be, like one of the panelists said, Julia Alvarez. Why settle for just one writing identity when you can have several (and be good at several)? It makes perfect sense. Still, whenever I do say I write more than one genre or for more than one age group, I tend to get an “Oh” with a glazed look, as if saying I just haven’t made up my mind what I want to write, that I have to find one niche and stay there.

Well, I refuse.

I enjoy writing. Period. So I will write whatever it is that turns me upside down, inside out. Whatever fills me with excitement. Whatever decides to be what I must write right now. Then, when I’m done with that, I’ll move onto the next project that again commands my attention. Because I think that’s what writers should do. Write what they just absolutely have to write and not what they think they should write. That, I think, should be one of the main writing commandments.

Happy Birthday, Papi

Today is my father’s birthday. Or, rather, it would’ve been if he were still alive. He’d be turning 82.

Next month, on Valentine’s day, will be the fourth anniversary of his passing. Four years. My son’s age–he was six months when my father left this world of conflict and pain and frustration.

My father wasn’t one to celebrate birthdays. He never really saw the need. In fact, one of his favorite anecdotes, about birthdays, went something like this: “When I was growing up, I never had parties or anything of the like. No. It was simple. I needed pants, so for my birthday, I got pants.” I wish I could remember the exact way his words that left his mouth, but now the memory melts into the idea of what he said: no parties, just pants.

That never stopped me, though. I do like parties and celebrating–always have. So on his birthday, I would either make him a card or I would spend hours perusing the greeting card sections at Hallmark (or Publix or Eckerds, now CVS), and then I would pen what I thought was a beautifully written sentiment. And it usually was, except it was in Spanish, and my Spanish, though good, wasn’t perfect. When I gave him the card on his birthday, then, I grew accustomed to him reading it, pen in hand, correcting my grammar in the greeting card. I have to say, though, it stung a little, and sometimes, I would fight the tears that threatened to overcome my eyes. It was a card, damnit! I’d think. Just a card. I wanted him to read past the errors (which weren’t that many!) and get to what I wanted him to know: that despite the differences and hardships and fights, I still loved him.

But love, for my dad, was different. I realize that now.

For gifts, oh that was difficult. What do you get a man who doesn’t want anything? The only thing he wanted were cigarettes–Winston ones in the red and white box. Some birthdays, that’s what he’d get. He’d already made it clear he wasn’t going to stop smoking. Not after he went months without smoking, after his leg was amputated (is it weird that I can’t remember which one right now?) and he was in temporary hospice. Not after all his doctors kept regañandolo because he was slowly killing himself. No, he wasn’t going to stop smoking. He was a man of stories, anecdotes to make his point. So for this he’d remind us that when his mother, my grandmother, was dying of breast cancer, and all she wanted was a cigarette, he fought everyone to give her one last “gusto”– “She was dying anyway; who are we to deny the dying?” That was his motto, I guess, and since, in his mind he was dying (though his “dying” lasted well over a decade), he felt we should heed his argument without question. So on his birthdays, we would sometimes relent and wrap up a box of Winston cigarettes in bright birthday wrapping paper, place a big bow on it, and present it as his birthday present. Those were his happier birthdays, I think, and in his later years would elicit a series of chuckles as he put on his shirt, grabbed one of the cigarettes and his lighter, and rolled outside of the apartment to smoke his birthday gift.

I think of him often. Not only as a daughter thinking about her dad, but as a kindred spirit who is just beginning to understand the workings of that man. I didn’t understand while he was living; I didn’t understand when, as a teenager, I saw him break things and scream and make my mom cry. I didn’t understand his pain and in not understanding, I couldn’t help him. My mom, I think, understood him. I am only just beginning to understand as I tread through my own journey of illness. And I wish so many times he were still alive and I could ask him questions. I miss him.

So happy birthday, Papi. We love you.

I Don’t Remember — A writing prompt

I recently gave my class this writing assignment: Write what you don’t remember. It’s a nice twist to one of my favorite prompts (I remember). One of my students asked, “Well, if you don’t remember, how can you write it down?” The key to “I don’t remember” is that in naming what you don’t remember, you inadvertently trigger memories. Memory begets memory. It’s beautiful, really.

For example:

I don’t remember living in Queens, New York. I was five and though I get flashes of memories that walk me through that year, mostly, I don’t remember. What I do remember is the feel of the brick building that held my kindergarden class, where I got lost because I couldn’t understand the teacher’s instructions (since Spanish was what I learned at home) and instead of the playground, I was in the dark, cold hallway with my backpack and lunchbox. Alone. I remember being afraid. I must have cried, too. But that I don’t remember.

I also don’t remember where I lived, except that it was on a slope, and it was on an upper floor (third, perhaps?) because I remember the stairs with dark, wooden walls and the musky smell of closed spaces. I remember my Strawberry Shortcake comforter for my twin bed, though mostly because I have a picture of it with me right beside it: short, bobbed hair, black leotard and pink tights. I must have been taking ballet, though I clearly don’t remember that. I remember ballet in Miami, not in New York.

I remember my father’s fear, when he got mugged. I don’t remember how or when or why, except that I vaguely remember a story of him being taken by four men –or was it three?– and driven around, stripped of his wallet, money, and courage, only to be deposited back somewhere near our apartment, alive. He must have prayed, but I don’t remember him saying if he did. If he were alive, I’d ask him, but I don’t know that he’d remember.

If you’re feeling a need for a writing prompt, try “I don’t remember” — happy writing!

Another day in a beach town

The rain threatens late today. It starts as a low, long rumble as we take an afternoon stroll on the beach. Towards the north, where the land and sea blend together into a solitary line, the dark clouds form shadows of mountain peaks and I almost forget that we’re in Florida’s east coast; there are no mountains here. The rain never comes, though.

The afternoon stroll was a good ending to a good day. I could get used to days like these: taking morning strolls on the beach; building sand castles and watching small shells dig their way back into the sand, far away from us and the birds that feed on them; swimming in the pool, trying out water aerobics; napping after lunch to the sound of the waves coming and going; taking an afternoon drive or walk or just sitting in the balcony, writing. I could absolutely get used to this.

I’ve been productive today, with my writing classes. For my children’s writing workshop, I finished a superhero assignment that I thought would dismantle me. One of my first sketches included Super Mom, whose powers include seeing all (a la having eyes in the back of her head – yes, clichéd, I know) and who constantly battled her nemeses Grumpy Grandma and Know-it-All Friend. A bit lame, and more a platform for a disgruntled mom than a kid’s superhero. Though I might revisit these “characters” even if for a comedic post. What I finally submitted was much better than this. I hope.

In my personal essay workshop, we had a guest author pop in, and it was very interesting. Christine O’Hagan was kind and answered our questions candidly. I always find it helpful to listen to the advice and wisdom of authors who know the ropes, who’ve published in the field I’m interested or tackling. I particularly loved when she said (and I’m paraphrasing) memoirs need to be written with compassion and humor. Compassion and humor – so important. In the process of writing my memoir (and it’s still very much a work in (early) progress), I’ve come to understand that memoir writing is not a vendetta, it’s not the opportunity to get even with someone. Memoir writing is writing without judgement, to understand and make peace with a past and with people in that past. It’s a journey and an exploration about an event (or events) and person (or people) that were significant in life and that, by sharing this experience, others can understand shards of their own lives.

Now, I sit here in the balcony. My son is asleep (finally – no nap today), and my husband is next to me, on his iPad. We’re quiet, and the only sounds that come are from the waves, the breeze, and the keys on my laptop as I’m typing. It’s a beautiful rhythm. Our vacation ends in two days, and I don’t want it to. I want to stay here, in this beach town, indefinitely. I want to get used to this routine.

Lazy Afternoons in the Backyard

I’m sitting in my backyard today with my husband and son, amidst a lazy afternoon. The smoke from nearby brushfires is, thankfully, not blowing in our direction, and we can enjoy the sunshine (or in my case, the shade). A small child’s sprinkler – a kaleidoscope of greens, oranges, purples and blues – waves its arms relentlessly, spraying cool water as my son jumps and runs, squealing and giggling. My husband has fired up his grill, and the scent of the turkey burgers cooking reminds me I’m hungry. Our outdoor rock-inspired speakers sound off an eclectic array of tunes: 80’s, Disney, country, and pop/alternative. The simple breeze adds a backdrop to the tunes, a soft whisper. I love lazy afternoons like this; they make me feel content.

They also remind me of my childhood. I lived most of my adventures in the backyard of my Westchester home, la casita de Westchester. Though it was a humble home on the inside, just right for a family of three, its backyard was what dreams were made of – or at least, dreams for a six-year-old or eight-year-old. Or an eleven-year-old.

I can’t say exactly how big the backyard was; such exact measurements escaped my interest as a child. Instead, I was more interested in the ampleness of the grass, where I could try my headstands and cartwheels, falling laughing and laying there, arms stretched out, the soft prick of grass comforting as I stared out into the sky bright with the South Florida sun, imagining castles in the clouds and princesses waiting to be rescued.

Or, I was more interested in the two dips in the ground, one towards the center of the yard, the other towards the left, right outside my bedroom window. They became fortresses, lakes, obstacles. The one on the left became a pet-cemetary for my two parakeets when I was about seven.

Or, I would run with my dog, Lucky, waving an adult-sized full skirt, part of the traditional Colombian costume that my aunt (though which one, I don’t remember now) had brought me. Though I loved that skirt and how it made me feel (like a princess, beautiful and delicate), it was much too large, and it was much more fun to wave it around and watching Lucky snap at it erratically until he finally caught the material in between his teeth. I’d tug and pull and he’d growl, and then I’d turn round and round until Lucky would lift slightly off the ground, teeth still attached to skirt. When we both let go, he’d run to me as I lay on the floor, and I’d laugh while he licked my face.

Or, I would sit on the outside air-conditioner unit after having a fight with my father, my face tear-streaked and my chest heaving. The hum, and Lucky’s wet licks on my hands, would comfort me and there I’d imagine I lived somewhere else where “life wouldn’t be so unfair.”

That backyard was my haven, my domain. I could be anyone or anything.

At one time, my father said he’d build me a small house in the backyard and I could live there. I think I might have imagined that, but I remember the dreaming vividly: a small, wooden “house,” just one room with a cot and a window with flowers. It would be right next to the dip in the center, and I could enter and exit into my backyard as I pleased. I would have the stars at night for company and the next-door-neighbor’s banana tree for food. I really wanted that backyard house, like I wanted the Barbie doll house my father had started building me, but alas, neither became reality. The first was never started; the second, he destroyed half-way in a rage.

But sitting out here, in my own backyard now, watching my son play, I remember those afternoons in that backyard so many years ago. Much has changed since then, but the peace and possibility that arises from a simple backyard – that is still intact.

Remembering Papi

I’ve been remembering my father quite a bit lately. Not that I had forgotten him and somehow stumbled across his memory. No, it’s more like I now have an inkling of the pain he must have felt, and I get it, or at least, I get some of it.

I still see him, in his later years, sitting at the dinning table in his wheelchair, a small glass of lukewarm water to his right (he sipped water all day), a bottle of tylenol to his left. He was always taking tylenol because of his headaches and my mother was always arguing with him that it was going to fry his liver. Or his kidneys. But he always took those small, white pills, in hopes of relieving a smidgen of the pain he was feeling, or maybe just in hopes of taking the edge off of the pain. His face was leathery, worn, and his eyebrows were more often than not scrunched up; he winced often. I imagine his whole body hurt, with deep aches and a never ending loneliness because of it. I imagine he missed his younger, healthier self. I do know he wished often to be taken in his sleep, so he could suffer no more.

Before the leg amputation that sentenced him to the wheelchair, his walk was slow, steady. He wouldn’t drive; instead, he’d take it to walking from our apartment, eight blocks south to Publix or eight blocks north to Navarro. Those were his daily outings. I remember walking with him, I was in my mid-teens, and trying to have conversations. As judgmental as he could be, my father was a talker and he’d talk to anyone who’d listen to him. At times, on the bench outside of Navarro, my father would sit, and whoever was sitting there would soon find himself/herself in a tete-a-tete about current world affairs or the downward spiral this country was facing.

Immediately following his amputation and after he’d outlived his hospital stay, he was in a recovery home for several weeks. We’d visit him every day, bringing in chicken, rice and beans from the nearby Pollo Tropical. There, we’d find my father rolling around in his wheelchair from room to room, chatting up the little ol’ ladies in the neighboring rooms. In between the groans and cries, you’d hear some laughter.

I do miss him. I see his character in my son, in his stubborn refusal for help or in his angry outbursts because something went wrong. I also see him in my son’s eyes – dark, round and bright with mischief and imagination.

I Remember: Middle School (7th Grade)

I remember middle school. Seventh grade to be exact. I was in that awkward transition from girl to preteen and trying my hardest to be “cool” – what “cool” meant at that time is a foggy memory, though. I wanted shaved legs (the memory of the previous summer in Colombia and the ambush to see my hairy legs still a vivid hue of humiliation), I wanted make up. I wanted a boyfriend.

Of course, my father wouldn’t hear of it. Me estaba madurando biche, or growing up ahead of my time. Like a fruit, I wasn’t ripe enough, and yet that’s what I wanted to be: ripe. After the short taste of freedom in Colombia, where I spent three months with aunts and uncles, away from my father’s gaze, and after I realized that women, in order to receive men’s attention (or, in my case, for girls to receive boys’ attention), needed smooth legs, painted lips, I sought that in my small, Westchester house. When I pleaded to shave my legs, and my father responded with a short “no,” I proceeded to sneak my mother’s razor into my bathroom and, with lukewarm water and some soap, I shaved my legs. That was my first act of rebellion, and it came with some sharp, stinging cuts. I don’t remember my punishment, but perhaps my mother interceded for me and I was allowed to continue shaving my legs. For me, it was a blessing; I was cursed with pale skin and dark hair, something that didn’t quite cry feminine for me.

When I started middle school, it was the first year that six graders would be moved to middle school, and I was in seventh grade, so I never got to be in the bottom of the hierarchy. Other seventh grade girls were showing their legs, in rolled-up or cuffed shorts, or skirts. They wore their big hair, bangs stiff with hairspray and teasing. And they wore makeup. I wanted to be like them, but when I asked permission for at least a little blush and lipstick, I was told, again, absolutely not. So I snuck it.

I took a small, private bus to school then. Camacho’s Bus Service, with Camacho being our driver. I would sit by the window and, when we were a safe distance away from my house, I would bring out the compact and lipstick. I didn’t choose anything loud. A simple mauve was my favorite shade. When I was on my way home, I’d quickly scrub the makeup off with some wet napkins and my parents never found out.

Lost Treasures

Today I relished in a day off from having to drive up to work. No thirty-six-mile commute for me. Instead, after dropping my son off at school, I drove three minutes to the nearest Starbucks, where everyone knows my name (I have the melody from Cheers in my mind…) I parked myself there, with a venti Caramel Macchiato, and proceeded to rewrite the scene of my father’s death. I had decided that would be the scene I wanted to benefit from the manuscript consultation at Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference because it’s been one of the hardest to write. It will more than likely be one of the last chapters in my book, and one that is still raw. It’s been two and a half-years since he died, but I still remember every second of that day (though some parts have begun to fade along the edges and time has warped a little.)

I sat for almost four hours. I had a six-page “draft” I had churned out about a year and a half-ago. But it was all telling. It was a synopsis of what happened, but not real writing. So I put it aside and started fresh from memory, choosing a starting point that wasn’t the beginning, and worked it. I ended with ten pages, the limit I needed for the manuscript consultation. I know I can expand it more, though I don’t know if I need to. We’ll see how the consultation goes. It’s a deeply personal piece, one that I hope can stand on its own (in narrative) and that will be a part of the bigger picture (the book.)

After I finished, I had a quick bite at Subway (the usual – six-inch turkey and provolone cheese with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper – I don’t stray from that either.) Then I  returned a pair of shoes, and sat in my car, not sure where to next. I had at least another hour before I could go pick up my little one, since he was napping at school, and then it hit me: Go to mom’s house. I had to go anyway, because she’d made some Abui yogurt and soup, so it was the perfect excuse to go and esculcarle for the music sheets my dad had written me.

It’s always the same when I go to my mom’s house: I expect to see my dad. Even though a chair now sits at the head of the dining table, which was his place, and since he was in a wheelchair, didn’t need a chair, there was a glass of water on the table and a small prescription drug bottle on that side. My mom’s taken it over, but it reminds me of him.

(Note: I keep saying house, but it’s an apartment. We just always called it la casita when referring to it among ourselves.)

Anyway, my first greeting was a large roach on its back, dying. I sprayed some Raid on it, which caused it to start wiggling, causing me to itch. I despise roaches. I emptied out a small, white trashcan my mom had and placed it over the roach, giving it privacy while it died and giving me comfort that it wouldn’t suddenly spring back to life and chase me. Ha!

I went into my old bedroom, where I last knew the music sheets were, and I started searching. I looked around, moved books and boxes, removed bags, and found nothing. I prayed – Lord, illuminate me, give me an inclination where these things may be – and then I looked up. On the uppermost shelf of the closet where things, only I couldn’t tell exactly what those things were. So I moved a chair, climbed up, and moved some more. Sure enough, all the way to the back and right was a stack of folders and a white box. I got them and saw what I’d been looking for and so much more: awards, certificates, letters, music sheets, pictures, my baby book, school years memories, and old stories and poems I’d written! There was also a folder with information, schedule, etc. of when I played the bells for the superintendent of schools back in 1990 representing Everglades Elementary. Cool!

I came home with my treasure, eager to sift through it. I discovered (and somehow, I’d forgotten) that I wrote short stories when I was in high school, the early years. I remember writing poetry (really cliched, love-struck, rhyming poetry) because poems plagued my journals. But in a notebook, there they were: typed short stories with character development on a side sheet, typed in the first computer I owned: a hand-me-down dot-matrix computer! Insane. They were better than the poems I wrote (though that doesn’t necessarily say much about my writing back then)!

The best part, by far, has been the letters written to my mom and me by my dad, back in early 1990 when he went through a health crisis. He went to Colombia to get better, believing more in the doctors there than those here. These letters now give me a glimpse into his desperation, frustration and, more importantly, love. His love for us. His affection. I don’t remember that, and I wish I did. I wish I remember his telling me he loved me and he was proud of me. I wish I remember that affection. I don’t, but I now have these letters as proof they were real.

What prompted the search, though, and which I found, was the song he wrote for me when I turned nine. He played the piano, and he wanted me to learn. He also wrote music and lyrics, mostly religious ones when he was a priest. (I have recently found his collection of sheet music with church songs.) Well, he wrote two songs for me, that I remember: when I turned nine and when I went to Colombia by myself (I was also nine, almost ten.)

Here are the words to my daddy’s song (in Spanish, of course):

Mujercita eres ya
nueve son tus añitos. (Repeat)
El señor, que es tu Padre,
no te fallará jamás.
Siempre fiel a su amor.
Conducir te sabrá
por senderos oscuros
y llevarte a la gloria
de la ciencia y la virtud.

So yep, that was it. Short, but sweet and spiritual.